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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 20:29 GMT
Holland takes princess to its heart
Dutch shop window
Orange will be the order of the day on Saturday
By Rob Groen in Amsterdam

When the Dutch Crown Prince marries his Argentine bride on Saturday, the Netherlands will turn from a quiet agricultural country into a manic, orange-decked carnival of music and dance.

In the country's living rooms, bars and village halls the noise of singing, popping champagne corks and breaking crockery will be deafening

In recent years, Dutch festivities have turned from the traditional, low-key parade with a few floats and a brass band playing the national anthem into a free-for-all in which inhibitions are thrown aside, usually under the influence of vast quantities of beer and fast food.

An army of Dutch people will cover their faces in orange war paint, don inflatable orange crowns and arm themselves with inflatable plastic hammers.

But there will be none of that in Amsterdam's New Church, when Willem-Alexander weds Maxima Zorreguieta in front of a congregation of royals and dignitaries from around the world.

There, it will be all starched collars, classical music, religion and decorum - and the occasional stifled yawn.

In the country's living rooms, bars and village halls, however, the noise of singing, popping champagne corks and breaking crockery will be deafening.

On Saturday, as in the weeks leading up to the happy event, the Netherlands is Maxima Country.

Maxima Zorreguieta
Maxima's beauty and spontaneity captivated the Dutch public
It is difficult to overstate the popularity of Miss Zorreguieta in the Netherlands.

The Dutch are not normally given to lavishing affection on their royals.

Queen Beatrix, on the throne since 1980, has earned much respect, but not a great deal of love. Her children, with the exception of Willem-Alexander, largely stay out of the public eye and the general view is that that is as it should be.

As for the crown prince himself, he is seen as a personable, amiable chap, but most people hope the day he succeeds his mother will not come too soon.

But Maxima! Beautiful, spontaneous, with a ready smile and an easy, relaxed manner, she charmed the Dutch public from day one. She became the darling of the popular press.

The gossip magazines found nothing to gossip about and had to settle for photo spread after photo spread: Maxima and Willem-Alexander, Maxima without Willem-Alexander, Maxima among the tulip fields, Maxima visiting a children's hospital.

It would all have been plain sailing but for one thing.

Anti-Argentina protest
There has been anger about Maxima's father's past
Maxima's father, Jorge Zorreguieta, had been Minister of Agriculture in the junta of General Jorge Videla, which terrorized Argentina in the 1980's.

Under Videla's rule, any opposition was cruelly stamped out and many people were murdered or disappeared without trace.

Was the daughter of a man like Mr Zorreguieta worthy of marrying a Prince of the Netherlands? demanded the voices of dissent in the media.

Questions were asked in parliament. Had Mr Zorreguieta been personally involved in the crimes? If not, how much did he know and when did he know it? Some suggested that Willem-Alexander should give up his right to the throne, if he insisted on marrying Maxima.

And Willem-Alexander hinted that he might do just that.

In the end, the matter was settled. The prince could marry Maxima without forfeiting his succession, but Jorge Zorreguieta would not be invited to attend the wedding.

It was an uncomfortable compromise, and for Willem-Alexander the furore over Mr Zorreguieta has a particular edge of bitterness.

His own father, the German Claus von Amsberg, had been the subject of similar controversy when he married Beatrix.

At the time, Germans were about as popular in the Netherlands as Argentine junta members are today. That may have contributed to the princely couple's dogged refusal, in a recent interview, publicly to disavow Jorge Zorreguieta.

On Saturday, the controversy will be laid to rest, as the fairytale unfolds.

The BBC's Justin Webb
"Enthusiasm for the event seems genuinely heart-felt"
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"People absolutely adore Maxima"
See also:

23 Jan 02 | Europe
Dutch royal chat session crashes
09 Apr 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Wedding blues for Dutch monarchy
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